The murder of Christy Mirack, a 25-year-old elementary school teacher, was solved more than two decades after the fact. The suspect pleaded guilty in court after strong DNA evidence put him at the scene. And he was caught thanks to a genealogy website.
Raymond Rowe was a wedding and celebrity DJ who claimed on his website to have worked for parties hosted by Paris Hilton and at events featuring Sting and The Eagles.
But it was after an event at a school that evidence was found. Undercover investigators collected chewing gum and a water bottle from Rowe, who had been DJing an event there. The DNA taken from the two items matched DNA from the scene of the murder.
Rowe became the focus of the investigation last year after his sister submitted her DNA to the genomics database GEDmatch. It was the same site that helped catch the Golden State Killer.
People couldn’t believe he got away with the crime for so long.
I hope her family got a little bit of closure knowing that he was caught. Can’t believe this guy walked around free all of these years.— Steph Golob (@Stephgolob) January 11, 2019
'DJ Freez' Raymond Rowe stated he was "sorry" to the family of Christy Mirack for raping, strangling & murdering her. Meaningless when he's been walking free since 1992 - only 'confesses' because his DNA linked him to murder. ‘Absolute, remorseless horror’ https://t.co/zdzZYOOujF— Justice For Victims (@ElMuertoArias) January 10, 2019
After finding his sister was a partial match to the crime scene DNA, they focused on Rowe. Collecting his DNA proved he had been at the crime scene. After police arrested him, he confessed.
At his court hearing earlier this week, Rowe pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and rape. He was sentenced to life without parole. In court, he also tried apologizing to the family of the victim.
GEDmatch is an open data site to which anyone can submit their genetics. The site allows a user to then find others with similar matched DNA to find relatives and determine genealogy. However, since it is open data, law enforcement has also used the site.
As of December 2018, more than 200 criminal cases have had DNA evidence uploaded to the site to try and find the perpetrators of crimes. This was brought to national attention in April 2018, when retired police officer Joseph DeAngelo was arrested for the Golden State Killer Murders.
Still, many are disturbed by the idea of law enforcement using the database like this.
Is it weird that I’m skeptical/paranoid about taking those DNA kits even though I’m quite certain I’ve never done anything I need to worry about?— Adam (@AdamHardesty) January 10, 2019
The site doesn’t only have police uses. Started in 2010, the site’s founder, Curtis Rogers, has claimed it has helped over 10,000 adoptees find their biological parents.
However, the civil liberties question cannot be ignored. GEDmatch has said it was not consulted by law enforcement agencies for their investigations.
When asked about the Golden State Killer case, Rogers said:
“This was done without our knowledge, and it’s been overwhelming.”
Right now, there are not strong privacy laws to protect data people send to ancestry sites. In fact, it’s unlikely police even need a warrant to search the site.